After more than three years of devastating war in Yemen, there are new efforts being carried out in Geneva for a peaceful solution. The United Nations Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths hopes that the warring parties will engage with each other to end the conflict. The negotiations were scheduled to kick off on Thursday, but were postponed due to the lack of representation from the Houthi rebels.
Previously, the Houthis, who are supposedly backed by Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah, had condemned the talks because they would not produce any results. Meanwhile, Martin Griffiths had met with officials from the Hadi Government who are supported by a Saudi-led coalition, but talks cannot take place until the Houthi delegation is ready to come to the table. At a press conference in Geneva this week, Griffiths reiterated that the first step to the talks were to work on confidence-building measures between the two sides and focus on how peace negotiations would work in the future.
The talks in Geneva would be the most serious effort made in the last two years to bring an end to Yemen’s three-year conflict, which has killed more than 10,000 people and brought about the world’s worst humanitarian crisis according to the United Nations. Meanwhile, the UN Security Council has repeated its call for the implementation of UN resolution 2216, which calls on the Houthi rebels to relinquish its control of the capital Sana’a and refrain from provocations to neighboring states like Saudi Arabia.
There are high expectations for the Geneva talks on Yemen, but there is still an escalation on the ground. The primary aim for these talks is to arrange for future talks so then more negotiations will take place next month. Right now, the United Nations is trying to get the warring parties together and agree on what the future negotiations would look like, and the consultations will have limited aims such as the release of prisoners and the reopening of the Sana’a Airport. However, a slow approach to the conflict could de-escalate the situation on the ground if both the Houthis and the Saudi-led coalition can negotiate an end to the war, but unfortunately, neither side wants the war to end nor slow down.
According to the United Nations, the Saudi-led coalition may be committing war crimes in Yemen. The coalition has created a starvation siege in Yemen by not allowing humanitarian assistance into the country, and they have also bombed civilian targets like weddings, schools, hospitals, funerals, and markets. The statistics relating to the realities on the ground in Yemen are quite dire. 28 million people are in need of assistance, 8 million people are on the brink of starvation, and 3 million people have fled their homes. This is a terrible humanitarian crisis, yet one that many in western capitals are paying little attention too. In fact, the United States is also responsible for arming and training the Saudis, sharing intelligence with military officials, and refueling Saudi jets in mid-air.
It would not have been possible for the Saudi-led coalition to carry out this intervention in Yemen without the help from the US. Yemen is a sovereign country and when the Houthis took the capital Sana’a in 2014, it was an internal conflict. The external involvement of the Saudi-led coalition with support from the United States intervened in the most disastrous way with 18,000 airstrikes being carried out, most of which have hit civilian targets and it is quite striking that the UN has brought up charges of war crimes that relate to torture, rape, and intentional targeting of civilians.
The US Congress has tried to pull back its support for the Saudis and Emiratis in Yemen by restricting arms sales. The latest attack on a school bus by the coalition that killed 40 children was chaotic, but the bombs that were used to hit those children were American-made, namely from Lockheed Martin. The United States is feeling the ripple effects from the conflict in Yemen, especially the latest event of August 9 because they were directly responsible for the deaths of those children.
But of course, from the perspective of Washington, if the Saudis don’t buy the weapons from the US, the Saudis could get them somewhere else. The weapons that are being sold to Riyadh from the United States are killing people in Yemen and the fact is that Saudi Arabia has enough weapons given that they are one of the largest buyers of weapons in the world. If we are going to talk about ethics and targeting, why would it be ethical to sell weapons to a country like Saudi Arabia that is actively at war, targeting civilians in Yemen, and causing chaos in the Middle East? The Yemenis are the victims of this war and they are victims of both the Houthis and the Saudi-led coalition. Aside from the atrocities carried out by the coalition, the Houthis have also committed crimes against civilians who oppose them, they have kidnapped people, and infringed on their human rights. But at the same time, the coalition has not made things any better by comparing themselves to a group of rebels that took power illegally by portraying themselves as the better side when the Yemeni civilian is paying the price of this war.
We’re not at a peace process in Yemen because the United States continues to support the Saudi-led coalition and it is very difficult to see how a real peace agreement could be implemented. But as long as the coalition continues to be backed by the world’s number one superpower, they will continue this war until an absolute victory is achieved.
In addition, the United States would like to support the Saudis and the Emiratis in everything they do, but it is incredibly hard to do so when there are civilian casualties and people starving throughout the war-torn country. Ambassador Nikki Haley would like to back Saudi Arabia because it would be a counter to Iran, but at the same time she cannot turn a blind eye at the humanitarian disaster in Yemen. The war in Yemen has had a bad name on the Trump Administration, but the US can put pressure on all sides to come to a political settlement. Even if the conflict came to an end, there could still be small pockets of fighting on the ground regardless and this is something the world will have to take care of. However, a slow process of not claiming success before it is actually achieved can give Yemenis hope that maybe a peaceful solution can hopefully be worked out sooner rather than later.
Yemen is a different case from Syria in that the conflict can be solvable and the Yemenis will have to hold onto this consultation process as a way to peace because there is nothing left on the ground. If we do not resolve the crisis in Yemen, this could spill over into neighboring countries and exacerbate the instability of the Middle East.